Monday, June 27, 2016

Cymbeline - Shakespeare

Cymbeline is the name of an early English king.  He has a somewhat complicated history.  He had two sons by a previous wife, but they were taken from their nursery at an early age and disappeared.  He has a daughter by that previous wife, named Imogen.  He has since remarried but his new queen has a son from an earlier marriage named Cloten.  To make matters more complicated, Imogen has married herself to man named Posthumus Leonatus, whose father died heroically before he was bon.  This marriage is frowned upon by the king and Posthumus has been banished from England.  (Got all that?)
This is the situation as the play opens.  Very shortly thereafter these things happen:
  • Posthumus makes a wager with an Italian that Imogen cannot be seduced.
  • The Queen mixes a poison that is meant for Imogen.
  • Cloten decides that he must marry Imogen and he won't take 'no' for an answer.
  • Imogen insults Cloten by telling him that he is worth less than her husband's worst clothes.
  • We are introduced to the king's lost boys who have been raised in the wilderness by a disgraced soldier.
  • A Roman ambassador has come to collect tribute owed by England to Rome. 
All of these things mix together in the expected (and unexpected) ways.  It ends with happiness for some and tragedy for others.  I won't spoil it except to say that it feels like a very busy play.

There is something of a remix feel to 'Cymbeline'.  It opens with an early English king rejecting his good daughter, much like King Lear.  There is a bloodthirsty queen, much like in 'Macbeth'.  There are 'lost' children like in several of the romances.  Imogen wakes in a grave next to the dead body of her supposed lover, like Juliet does.  Yet in all of these similarities, the outcome is different, or at least the path is different.
All different but I don't know if any of them are improved. 

Cymbeline is the king involved, but he is really something of a bit part.  The main part of the story is that of Imogen and Posthumus and their difficulties.  I'm curious about the reason for the naming.  (And I don't know if Cymbeline has a hard or soft 'c' sound.)  All in all, this is the least attractive title role that I've come across in Shakespeare's works.

I can see how it could be an effective play, but I can also see how people would pass it by for other, better works.  I guess you can put this on the list of plays that I probably need to see in order to really judge it.  As read, it is a lesser work by Shakespeare.

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